It’s often a mystery to us why we get trapped in doing things that keep us “stuck” in life. Some call it self-defeating behavior. Others call it self-sabotage. Regardless of the terms we use to describe it, it means that we are acting in a way that is keeping us from finding real meaning and value in our lives.
Table of Contents
The Responsibility of Not Being a Victim
You create your own experience through the choices you make on a daily basis. In order to avoid being a victim, you have to admit that once you realize you are doing things that are not working for you, you are accountable. In other words, once you “get it” you can never go back to to the way you were. If you are not happy, then you are accountable. You can no longer dodge responsibility for how and why your life is the way it is. If you don’t accept this responsibility, then you will misdiagnose every problem you have. This may be hard to accept when others in life seem to be acting in such unfair and unreasonable ways.
The bottom line is that you are not a victim. We create the emotions that flow from the situations that we find ourselves in. We need to stop looking in other places for the answers to our life’s problems. This means we need to avoid blaming others and focus instead on the choices and behaviors in our lives. It is natural to blame others for our problems. They may be doing things that are causing your problems, but you have to focus on your response to those situations. As long as you focus on others, you will cripple any efforts toward getting out of your own way.
Don’t Let Others Create Your Experience
This part is tricky. It requires that you admit to, and accept that you, and only you, are accountable, and responsible, for your life. This also means that you have to stop looking to others to find the solutions, cures, and answers to your life.You have to let go of thinking that “if others would only….” then everything would be okay.
Remember that you, and only you, are the person who can create what you get in life, even when others are being unfair and seemingly unconcerned with what is happening to you. To avoid being controlled by others, you need to stop seeing yourself as a victim who needs the help of powerful other people to change things. You are the one creating the emotions that result from any situation in your life. Keep the focus on where it belongs–your own choices and behaviors.
Don’t Get Stuck on Asking “Why”
We often “why” people are acting or behaving in a certain way, especially if it’s causing them (or ourselves) pain. This gets us stuck because we don’t “understand” and we want to try to either help “fix” them or “figure them out”. This is doomed to fail for many reasons, however the truth is that other people are “doing what works for them” based on their own “private logic”. This has nothing to do with our own “private logic” we live by.
Instead, we need to understand how people, in general, live their life. All people try to avoid what they fear, and work towards what they desire most. The number one fear among all people is rejection. The number one need among all people is acceptance. As hard as it may seem, everyone deals with situations in terms of “what is in it for me” to some degree or another. People tend to take in and hear only what they want to understand and avoid those who make them tense or cause them discomfort.
Even “good people” can be, and often are, petty, small, inconsiderate, and uncaring. They are not necessarily concerned with the same things that you are, even if you think they should be. Much of what we do is on automatic pilot because of how we learned in the past “what works.” For yourself, the challenge is to consider all the possible ways you could be getting a “pay off” for the behaviors even though you are not aware of it. While it’s true that you cannot eliminate your negative behaviors without understanding why you do it, don’t get stuck in only asking “why”.
You Cannot Change What You Do Not Acknowledge
This requires that you make sure you “get real” with yourself about your life and everyone in it. You have to look less at what others are doing. Instead, look more at what you are doing that keeps things happening the same way, no matter how unfair or unreasonable things are. Be truthful about what is not working in life.
Others have probably pointed out some things to you but you are insisting that they see it your way rather than stopping and “really listening.” We do not want problems to be true and we do not want to hear “bad news” in life. This keeps us from being open to what is not working in our lives. Yet, there are no accidents; we create our own experience by what we choose and do. We cannot heal what we do not acknowledge.
Life Rewards Action
Good intentions mean nothing without your doing something. You can read a book on self improvement, go to counseling, or strive to be your best; it won’t matter a bit if you don’t actually practice what you need to change. This requires that you make careful decisions and then follow-through with doing things that make a difference.
You have to focus on “never giving up” and keeping yourself moving forward in positive ways. Insight, understanding, having good intentions are nice beginnings, but they mean nothing unless you actually do something to make real changes. Nothing in life will change until you begin to practice doing things differently.
Unfortunately, as human beings, we want to be safe. We don’t want stress and risk. Anxiety and fear are normal, but don’t let it dominate you! Fear becomes too handy and then it becomes too easy. Take action in the face of fear. Make life decisions because they are the foundation of how your life will be lived and how others will be allowed to relate to you. Make a life decision to risk reasonable, risk responsibly, but do take risks! Take action and insist on results!
Perceptions is More Important Than Reality
There is no reality; only perceptions. It is critical that you stop and come to understand the “filters” through which you view the world. We like to talk more about what others need to do, see and understand. The reality is that you have to understand your own “filters” you use to view the world and why you keep being “stuck” and getting the same response from others in life.
Remember, no matter what happens in life, what matters is how you interpret things, not reality! You can choose your reaction. You can choose to perceive a situation as a challenge. Events in life only have the meaning that you assign to them. We usually fail to see how we contribute to the our experience of the world and the reactions that we get from others. You control your perceptions, interpretations, and attitudes about life.
Stop Looking for the “Magic Cure”
One of the problems in life is that we are “looking for peak feelings and experiences” that will “cure” and solve our problems in life. The reality is that this will “never happen.” We have to understand that we are responsible for managing our life. To do this, we have to stop looking for “the solution.” To do this, we need to stop rushing to figure everything out.
We have to manage our life on a daily basis. Problems will happen and it is our job to learn to manage each day, each of our responses, and how we think about them. We have to stop complaining about what is happening.
Unfortunately, Life is not Fair
Everyone hates this one. Sadly, though, life is not fair. We have to deal with life the way it is, even if it is not “right.” Many times, we get stuck on why something should not be happening rather than dealing with it. Whether or not something is fair, or unfair, has little to do with the fact that you have to deal with it regardless.
All you can do is to manage your life and what happens each day. You can keep yourself jumping from one thing to another, rushing around, being scattered, and feeling on a high because of constant movement, yet never solving anything. Such an approach keeps you from really knowing yourself or being able to realistically manage your life and deal with the reality of your daily life conditions.
We Teach Others How to Treat Us
This is a hard concept to accept in life because we tend to spend much time “playing the victim” in life. We have to “own,” rather than complain, about how people treat you in life. Our response to other peoples’ behaviors “rewards them,” either directly or indirectly, which “teaches” them what works relative to how they are to behave around you.
If you are continuing to get the same response from other people over and over again, then you have to stop and consider that YOU may be doing something that maintains their behaviors. Partners who complain about their significant other’s behavior, and yet never take a firm stand on what is acceptable, are actually rewarding the behaviors of others.
This insures that others will continue their behaviors because they do not know the real boundaries of how to behave. You give them “power” because they are “rewarded” for their interactions with you. They know you talk and talk, complain and complain, but never set limits and refuse to allow such behaviors to continue. As a result, they become “psychologically deaf” to your complaints.
There is Power in Forgiveness
You have to become open to what anger and resentments are doing for you in life. Sometimes you continue your behaviors of complaining in order to keep your anger and resentments “alive” and active in your life. There becomes an “enjoyment” of the anger and resentments because they are “familiar and known” to you. It may be that you were “taught” to have such anger from how you observes others relate to each other while you were a child.
You then have “chosen” to continue such behaviors because they are “comfortable.” You have to “forgive yourself and others” in order to “let go of your anger” and remove these resentments from how you relate to others in your life.
Your Goals Must be Specific and Clear
It is critical to making changes that you “get clear” about what you want. If you can pull ten people off the street and describe your life goals to them, they should all be able to accurately agree on what they believe you meant to say. Otherwise, your goals are vague and will be as solid as air.
You can then focus on “taking your turn” to accomplish what you want. Stop your denial, take your psychological blinders off, and start to focus on what you can do to make changes. Stop thinking that “if only others would change, then life would be better.” Focus on “naming” what it is that you are doing, have to do, and need to do to handle the situation you are in right now. Stop rushing around looking for what others need to do.
Remember, start by focusing ONLY on what you have to do in order to manage your life on a daily basis. Everything else should be considered a luxury.
Choose SMART (not Perfect) Goals
Setting realistic short-term behavioral goals can help you achieve your long-term plans. To do this effectively, you must be aware of the critical difference between having dreams vs. having goals. Dreams are vague, non-specific, and and often lead to frustration and setbacks. Goals are specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic, and have a timeframe for completion (aka “S.M.A.R.T.”).
You should be able to describe your SMART Goals to 10 strangers on the street and have all of them agree on what your goals are. If even one of them disagrees with you, your goals lack one or more of the SMART components. This is one of the ways in which we combat vagueness as an indirect way to reduce perfectionism in being realistic.
You can download the SMART Goals worksheet for planning and practice.
Make Your Changes Work for You
In order to make these ideas work for you, it is critical that you be realistic. The sad truth is that others are not as sensitive or as understanding about your life, needs and wants as you might think they should be. Only you can help you. Stop looking for what others need to do to make changes.
We all act in unhealthy ways or have difficulty responding well to problems in our life. What is needed is to clearly look at what we are doing rather than focusing on our past as the cause, and by extension, an excuse to avoid change. These guidelines hopefully will help to get us out of our own way and on with our lives.
Make a decision to change if you are doing something in your life that is not working for you. You, and only you, must be responsible for changing things. This does not mean that you have to “convince others” to understand, or help, you. You have to start with yourself. Life is a journey that does not have a map or timetable, so make the most of it!